by: Elena Bowen
Whatever happened to all the knife-wielding serial killers?
It can be argued that American horror films have been suffering a steady decline sincethe late 1980s. Essentially, Universal Studios single-handedly ushered us into the so-called “golden age” of horror in the 1930s. This paved the way for horror icons suchas James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933) and Frankenstein (1933) in which Boris Karloff masterfully portrayed Frankenstein’s creature. It was during this era that horrorgained credibility as an outlet for audiences to indulge their innermost fears. People were no longer going to the cinemas to be entertained by airy melodramas and the occasionalmusical – audiences wanted to be terrified. From these humble beginnings, the horror genre broadened to include campy B-movies that dabbled in all that was supernatural, creepy or just plain weird (See: Nathan Hertz’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman or Irvin Yeaworth’s The Blob).
In the late 1970s and 1980s, the industry experienced a surge of new and innovativeways to stir audiences that went beyond the scope of zombies, swamp-creatures and demonic children (oh, my). At this point in history, filmmakers began to deviate from thetraditional threat of the supernatural and began appealing to the rowdy teenager in all of us with the industry’s newest innovation – slasher films. These films promised audiences something exciting; namely, sex, gore and lots of it (and more than often, they’d feature a young Jamie Lee Curtis mere inches from being hacked to bits). Iconic characters suchas Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers made their claim to fame by gutting teenagers and instilling society with a deep-rooted fear of sociopaths and homicidal puppets alike. Things were looking good for horror until the mid-1990s, when it appeared that Hollywood had simply fallen short.
Somewhere between Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1995), horror films had begun to get a bit stale. The already simplistic formula of deranged-killer-stalks-wayward-teenagers became more diluted well into the early nineties, each sequel slightly more retarded than the installment preceding it. As the quality of the films progressively worsened, filmmakers sought out more outlandish plots to engage audiences who had all but lost interest in Freddie & Jason’s tiresome antics. These sequels failed to achieve the popularity of the originals and can only be described as appalling, at best.
As if an ongoing series of awful sequels weren’t enough to add insult to injury, filmmakers have abandoned creativity altogether and turned to “updating” films of the past, perhaps in vain attempts to revisit the genre’s success. It’s come to the point where modern audiences have simply forgotten the genre’s roots and are being duped intoseeing these mediocre remakes that plague the box-office. Surely, the average fourteen-year-old isn’t familiar with the original My Bloody Valentine (2009), Prom Night (2008) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2004).
However, many of the releases that have managed to generate interest amongst audienceswere actually remakes of various foreign horror films. Foreign filmmakers excel at the fine art of gore and all that is eerie. A slew of foreign films ranging from Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona’s El Orfanato (2007) to Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (which inspired a surge of Asian horror remakes in the early 2000s including The Eye and Ju-on) have been nabbed by desperate American production companies hoping to mimic thesuccess of the originals.
In this sense, the entire genre has been reduced to a series of stale, predictable sequels and rehashed remakes, providing modern audiences with nothing more than cheap thrills and minimal chills. It’ll be a sad day for horror films when the only viable options at the box office are Saw XXI and Freddie vs. Jason vs. Alien vs. Predator (vs. Kramer?). What does this mean for horror? Senseless violence and recycled plots will only get us so far. With the fourth installment of the Scream series currently in production, one can only hope they have more to offer than David Arquette’s receding hairline.